Sing, O Barren Woman

I have to be honest: for a long time, I wasn’t even sure I was going to post this. I’m feeling lots of big, complicated feelings about it all, and it feels risky to let you in amidst the rawness of it. But the more I thought about it, I’ve realized one thing I’ve always strived to do in this space is show up — not in spite of the mess but in the middle of it. And this particular situation already feels like it’s taken enough of my power away, so maybe this is my way of taking it back and choosing to tell the truth about the holy and the hard and everything in between.

So, now that that’s out of the way:
Trigger warning: pregnancy, infertility, chronic illness…

I’m one of those women who was lucky enough to get pregnant quickly. I was 31 when I conceived Atticus. I was overall pretty healthy, he was my first pregnancy, and it was a dream. Labor and delivery were traumatic, which you may know something of if you’ve read my memoir, and nothing about it went according to plan, but pregnancy? I absolutely loved every second of my pregnancy and always expected we’d do it again.

Of course, I also never imagined that adoption was going to be part of my story. But when Atticus was only a year old, we found ourselves beginning the long process of bringing home a preteen from Liberia who was going blind, a girl I’d known for almost a decade and watched grow up when I lived in her country. And when she finally joined our family, over two years later, we turned all our attention to raising her, to parenting two very different children who were now out of birth order, coming from different cultures and countries and circumstances and with vastly different needs.

And I will admit: we were not fully prepared for the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual toll parenting a child with severe trauma takes. We thought we were, but we had no idea. Learning how to mother her became my sole focus. I was lost in it, wondering why it was so hard, what I was doing wrong, how could I help someone who refused to let me in. And just when I thought we were making progress and taking a step forward, it’d all fall apart again and we’d end up taking three steps back.

And then age 40 started approaching — quickly. I realized if I wanted to try to have another baby, time was of the essence. We were finally coming out of the fog of the last several years, finally able to see beyond just the next step just in front of us. We were ready.

But my body is different now. There are new pains, new symptoms. There are doctors visits and blood work and scans and medications. We thought it was just a digestive illness was, and then came another. Endometriosis. (With fibroids on top of it all.)

And with that comes negative pregnancy test after negative pregnancy test. They call it secondary infertility, I’m told.

The thought I may not be able to have more children, through no choice of my own, feels like a hard and bitter bit that’s been shoved in my mouth. Then, other times, everything loosens a little, and I feel like I can maybe breathe again, because I see the two incredible little (and not-so-little!) people I’ve been lucky enough to make a family with. Both of those things are true at the same time.

So please, PLEASE stop asking womxn when they’re going to have babies, or when they’re going to start a family, or if they’re going to have any more. Because chances are, you have no idea whatsoever what’s going on behind closed doors.

And for those of you living a story that you’d never have written for yourself: I see you. I see the fear, the anxiety, the disappointment, the pain. I see the exuberant hope and the tremendous pain of hopes dashed. I see the questioning, the blaming, the bitterness, the way joy is sometimes a choice we have to make over and over again, each and every day.

You don’t need to pretend with me. Part of why I chose to write about this is because I’m so tired of feeling alone in all of it. Perhaps you know that feeling, too. I don’t have much to offer you besides a tight hug, the medicine of being listened to, and maybe, just maybe, a little song from one of my favorite ancient prophets, Isaiah. For a brief moment we have felt abandoned, but everlasting kindness — even if we can’t see it yet — is our home.